Real handmade leather is very hard to come by these days, and having never seen, smelled or touched such, most people have little or no sense of how precious and alive these leathers are. Where I live we call industrial leather “killing the animal twice” – with good reason. But behind the arguments for organic, healthy, non-toxic, hand-made, non-industrial and all the rest, leathers – true and important to be sure – lie richer and deeper questions surrounding human-animal relations, kinship, ancestry, history and place. To be sure, this is realm of ancient wonderment. There are old and abiding agreements in the world between humans and our animal kin, neither singular nor universal, to which we are heirs. Any farmer, hunter or hide-tanner worth their salt knows this and lives it out. So, in a sense the hide-tanner is a kind of middle-man between the animal and their customer, and perhaps unlike most middle-men arrangements, their job well and honourably done has the customer and the animal know each other well. Further, the manner of the hide-tanner’s labour, how they go about and speak of their work, has the power to ennoble both parties and uphold and keep alive certain old and precious things in this world. This is some of the alchemy of hide-tanning and some of why I call these leathers traditional.
I work primarily with Deer, Sheep, Moose and Goat skins which I turn into both smoke-tan and bark-tan leathers. All three of these powerful and graceful animals live where I do and their skins come my way from local hunters and farmers. None of these animals or their skins ever see the inside of a factory or feel the sting of any chemicals you wouldn’t want to touch. They are handled by humans in human fashion and are treated and tanned with deep regard and the finest, well gathered materials all from right where I, and they, live. It is one of the great privileges of my days to work with their skins, to make fine and beautiful things – to keep them close, alive and amongst us.